Eric Ripert, like most of the chefs who end up as judges on Top Chef, intimidates the hell out of me, mainly because he and his restaurant Le Bernadin in New York embody the word “flawless” in the way that few chefs and restaurants can. Simply thinking of the season 5 episode of Top Chef in which the cheftestants visit the restaurant, have an amazing meal there, and then are tasked to recreate a dish they had enjoyed makes my stomach churn with anxiety to this day. I mean, this is the place that employs a guy whose job it is to properly break down whole fish, and he’s so good at it that when he goes on vacation, two people are required to handle the volume of fish he portions by himself and it’s still not enough to meet the demand.
Eric Ripert demands excellence and embodies it on a daily basis, and the rest of us are merely along for the ride.
Being along for the ride is the main appeal of a show like Avec Eric: like sister PBS show Made in Spain, you are given access to what inspires a chef of his caliber and what makes him excited to cook day in and day out. The main distinction between Avec Eric and Made in Spain is that the latter is a love letter to a chef’s home country, while the former allows the chef to explore all of the places that inspire him the most, even if that means making ceviche while sitting on a bucket in the Caribbean Sea or hunting wild boars in Tuscany. Both shows will make you want to grab your passport and stalk Kayak.com to get away from your current situation as quickly as possible, but more realistically both will inspire you to get into the kitchen and make something amazing, especially with the cookbooks that accompany each show.
Cooking from Avec Eric is not necessarily easy, because he often calls for ingredients that aren’t readily available in most markets. (I’ve accepted that his Caribbean recipes are reason enough to find an apartment with a little kitchen for when we venture down to Puerto Rico so we can try our hand at cooking instead of simply having all of it made for us.) We are very, very fortunate to live near a supermarket that stocks most of the esoteric ingredients that are called for in these recipes, or at least enough of them to get close to the intended final product. Black garlic is a perfect example of this: it’s a sticky, fermented garlic that I knew Fairway kept in stock but wasn’t sure what to do with it. When I turned the page in Avec Eric to a simple salad that had slices of the stuff tossed together with cherry tomatoes, I knew I had to make it immediately for dinner. It’s an unexpected twist on the traditional tomato salad, and I can’t wait to make it many more times this coming summer.
(You can even find it on Amazon and get a bag to last you the whole summer and fall, because of course you can find it there.)
Esoteric ingredients aside, this is a cookbook to page through on a weekend morning. Since the recipes are arranged by episode, finding a specific one is not as intuitive as it would be finding a regular cookbook, but if you watch the show (currently available on Amazon Prime and Netflix to stream) and see a recipe that strikes your fancy, it’s fairly easy to find, and in conjunction with additional recipes that fit within the show’s theme along with wine pairing suggestions and it’s quite possible to plan a whole meal within a few pages.
Of all of the recipes we’ve tried to date, my favorite has to be the salmon rillette: it’s elegant and very simple, without a huge laundry list of ingredients. What you really need is to plan ahead to make it to allow for adequate chilling time both for the poached fish and for the final dish so that when it’s served, it’s nice and cool. It’s perfect on any kind of bread, and I’ll even make some thin socca to spoon it over if I’m not in the mood for a baguette or a cracker.
The most difficult part of the whole endeavor is to gently slice the salmon skin off of the fresh fillet, but if the idea of that is too daunting you could easily ask your fishmonger to do it for you. From there it’s simply a matter of poaching the fish in some wine with some shallots, letting it chill, and then gently folding in the smoked salmon, mayonnaise, lemon juice, chives, salt, and pepper. While it makes for an excellent appetizer, you could easily have this ready for lunchtime along with a stack of crackers, crostini, or lettuce cups and have a wonderful meal in of itself.
adapted from Avec Eric
Serves 2-3 as an appetizer
- 1 cup white wine
- 1.5 teaspoons minced shallots
- 1/2 lb fresh salmon fillet, skin removed and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1.5 ounces smoked salmon, diced (get salmon trimmings rather than whole slices if you can)
- 1 tablespoon thinly sliced chives
- 1/4 cup mayonnaise (preferably homemade)
- Juice of 1/2 to a whole lemon (depending on taste)
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper (use white if you don’t want it to be visibly noticeable)
Bring the white wine and shallots to a boil, and then add the fresh salmon and poach until opaque, about 2-3 minutes. Drain fish and shallots, and place in a metal bowl and cool for a few hours until well-chilled. Add the smoked salmon, chives, and the mayonnaise and lemon juice, but only as much as you need of both to moisten and bring the mixture together, adding any extra to taste. Carefully fold everything together along with the salt and pepper–you don’t want to mix too forcefully so you can maintain the shape of the poached salmon. Chill again, and serve cold with baguette slices and/or serving method of your choice.